“Calm yourself, Marco, he thought. Stay cool. Be like the Fonz.
Finally he made it through the third and final revolving door—and into Hell.
Marco stared ahead, grimaced, and raised his gun.
If you’re up there, Flying Spaghetti Monster, help us.
Corpus City lay in ruins. Windows were shattered. An entire building had fallen and lay in piles of bricks and metal bars, blocking two roads and filling an intersection. Many buildings still stood, soaring toward the sky, some a hundred stories tall, but their windows too were shattered, and wind moaned through them like ghosts playing stone flutes. The city didn’t seem destroyed so much as decayed, like the innards of a giant after a long illness, rotting away in a tomb. Marco saw no signs of life. No humans. No scum. Even the vulture apparitions were gone. But the sky seemed alive. Indrani, that gas giant, that goddess, roiled and grumbled above, a storm on its surface like a great yellow eye, peering down upon the desolation of Corpus City. Suddenly Marco was filled with the horrible feeling that Indrani was alive, was indeed gazing right at him, that it wasn’t a planet but a massive life-form. He could almost hear words in its grumbles, though he couldn’t make out their meaning.
"Emery." The voice emerged from his earbud, snapping Marco out of his paralysis. "Emery, are you all right?"
Thankfully, it was Lieutenant Ben-Ari speaking now, not Captain Chihuahua.
"I’m fine, ma’am," he said. "There’s nobody here. All the buildings and roads I can see from here—they all seem empty."
"Are there corpses?" Ben-Ari asked.
"I don’t see any," Marco said. "But it seems safe to enter. The air’s a bit smoky, but I don’t smell any miasma. Or death."
"We’ll be right there. Sit tight."
The rest of the company entered the city, one by one, and reformed into squads and platoons. The buildings soared around them, black and jagged, dwarfing the soldiers. Scraps of cloth fluttered across the dark roads, and a sign on an abandoned building creaked in the wind. A child’s bicycle rolled forward in the wind, then tilted over and clattered down.
"They’re all gone," Addy said. "The colonists fucking left. This is a ghost town."
Ben-Ari hushed her with a glare. She spoke into her helmet. "Spread out and check the perimeter. Squad One, head down that road. Squad Two, Squad Three—check those ruins."
The other platoons were breaking up into squads too and spreading out. Corporal Diaz, commander of the Ravens platoon’s first squad, ran at a crouch, gun pointed before him. Marco and the rest of the squad followed, guns pointing to their sides. Lailani brought up the rear, regularly spinning around to check for enemies behind them. They reached the road and walked between tall, narrow buildings. These were homes, Marco realized. Rows of family homes, some still with Halloween skeletons hanging in the windows. On one concrete patio a family had raised fake tombstones complete with cobwebs.
"Hey, Addy," Marco whispered. "Do you know why they keep building more cemeteries?"
"Because we keep killing scum," Addy said.
Marco shook his head. "Because people are dying to get in."
"I like my answer better."
"Your answer makes no sense," Marco said. "They don’t bury scum."
"So why would they need cemeteries?" Addy asked.
Corporal Diaz hushed them. He pointed at a few doorways. "Check the homes. A fireteam here, a fireteam there, and into that one too."
The squad quickly formed fireteams of three. Marco found himself with Addy and Elvis. He glanced over at Lailani, saw that she was careful to choose a fireteam far from him.
Marco approached one home and was prepared to kick the door open when a thought occurred to him. He grabbed the doorknob. The house was unlocked.
"They left in a rush," Marco said. "Didn’t even lock the door."
"Or they’re dead," said Addy, standing at the doorway with him.
"I don’t smell anything," Elvis said. "The dead stink. Let’s take a look."
They burst into the house, guns raised, prepared to fire at any scum that should happen to leap their way. They saw nothing. They raised their flashlights, but the beams fell on a vacant home. Marco saw furniture, a child’s doll, and an empty crib. Dirty dishes were still in the sink. No humans. No scum.”